On April 14, the first teaser for Star Wars: Episode VIII—The Last Jedi was released. In the trailer, Rey says she sees “light,” “darkness,” and “a balance.” While this is par for the course in a galaxy far, far away (a Jedi’s oft-stated purpose is to maintain the balance of the Force), what threw most audiences for a loop is Luke’s final words in the trailer, that he only knows “one truth. It’s time for the Jedi to end.”
While that sounds like the end of the Jedi in a sinister way, it could simply mean a change in philosophy from the rather strict view of Force of the Jedi to an idea called the Gray Force. Here’s what that is and why people think that’s a direction that The Last Jedi is taking.
[Note: The concepts of the Gray Force, Gray Jedi, and grayness as a whole are a complicated subject that pops up multiple times and are interpreted by multiple authors throughout the now non-canon Star Wars: Legends universe. As a result, all of the accounts of grayness in Star Wars may not be consistent with each other nor are they strictly canon these days. But the point of this article is to explain the lineage of this tradition in Star Wars and explain what this could mean for The Last Jedi.]
Being “Gray” is, at its core, to have different view on the Force. While the Jedi and the Sith both believe that there is a dark and light side to the Force, and that certain attitudes and Force powers fall somewhere along that spectrum, someone with belief in the Gray Force sees no sides to the Force at all, only the Force itself as a fundamental part of the universe. Thus, Gray Force users (you’ll see the term “Gray Jedi” a fair bit if you go back into the research) are anyone who transcends the dark/light binary in their practice of the Force. This can mean those who have practiced both sides of the Force, Jedi who do not align themselves with the Jedi council, those who use what are considered to be dark side Force powers but are not aligned with the Sith, and those who take have an altogether different conception of the Force than has ever been portrayed in any of the films thus far.
If you’ve only seen the movies, probably not. The only character who could even be considered Gray in any Star Wars films released so far is Qui-Gon Jinn, and this was during in an era of the Galactic Republic where the term was thrown around much more than it is in almost any other time in the entirety of the franchise. As mentioned above, Gray could be a term to describe members of the Jedi who disagreed with the council. The Jedi Council of the prequels is repeatedly shown to value orthodoxy over nearly anything else, and in the Legends universe, at that time, the term was used against anyone who disagreed with them. Ahsoka Tano, Anakin’s apprentice during the Clone Wars who broke from the Jedi Council, and a few minor characters from the Clone Wars and Rebels TV shows—such as the Nightsisters, the Father, and the Bendu—could be considered Gray, however.
The idea of grayness has existed at different times throughout the Star Wars universe. Below, I’ve outlined each time a significant Gray Force user or group appears in chronological order.
The first recorded instance of the Gray Force was the break of the Gray Jedi from the Jedi Order of the Original Galactic Republic (also known as the Old Republic). In the year 4000 BBY (BBY being the Star Wars equivalent of “BCE” except it means “Before the Battle of Yavin,” i.e. Episode IV), the Jedi were more of a loose confederacy of individuals rather than the Order we remember from the prequel films, but after being subject to a purge similar to the one in Revenge of the Sith, they decided to band together and codify the Jedi Code. Some didn’t like the Order’s banning of so-called dark side Force abilities or their insistence that Jedi not have families. Those that broke with the Jedi Order were considered to be Gray Jedi.
There were two notable Gray Jedi from this time. The first was Jolee Bindo, a character from Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic video game. A powerful Jedi warrior whose wife fell to the dark side, and killed many fellow Jedi before her death, Bindo said that he could only see the Force as Gray, and chose to separate himself from the Jedi for the rest of his life after his wife’s betrayal. The other Gray Jedi was Knights of the Old Republic’s player character, Revan, who—in a very complicated history that spanned several of Bioware’s Star Wars games, including the online game The Old Republic—was at times a Jedi, at times a Sith, and at times, even split into both a good and evil personality. Eventually, he reconciled both of these competing philosophies into one unaligned view of the Force just before he died, becoming one with the mystical power he’d spent his life attempting to understand.
Speaking of Bioware’s games, the studio’s still-running Online RPG The Old Republic introduced the Voss, a race of Force-sensitive aliens who used the Force not as diametrically opposed religions of light and dark, but as a tool to predict the future. Over the course of the species’ story arc in the game both the ancient versions of the Empire and the Republic, thousands of years before the events of the movies, attempted to sway the Voss to their line of thinking to maintain a strategic alliance in the ongoing conflict between the two entities. However, the Voss refused Force training from either faction, but maintained embassies of the Galactic Republic and the Sith Empire on their planet in an effort to keep both their political and spiritual alignment neutral.
Gray Force users then disappear from the universe for over 3,000 years. The next time they crop up is 132 BBY, during a time of relative peace and prosperity called the Golden Age of the Old Republic. Around this time, two distinct groups broke off from the Jedi Order: The Gray Jedi Order and Potentium, confusingly led by two guys named Leor. Potentium was a cult within the Jedi started by Leor Hal, who believed the Force was neither good nor evil, only people who used it were. He and his followers wanted to test the boundaries of the Force, which the council believed would sway them to the dark side. They eventually sequestered themselves on a living planet called Zonama Sekot.
The Gray Jedi, by contrast, were a group who believed, like the Jedi and Sith, that there were two sides to the Force, one good and one evil. Led by Leor Danal—a guy who looks so much like Yoda he was at times confused for him— they also believed that the way to balance the Force was to master all aspects of it. The Gray Jedi also fled to Zonama Sekot and established a temple in the mountains. Within 60 years, the organization became incredibly byzantine, with six ranks to the Jedi’s three, four advanced sects emphasizing different aspects of the Force and an increased training regiment. They stayed away from galaxy affairs through the events of the Star Wars films, but were very active in later fights against the Sith, becoming a political force all their own and interacting with many Skywalker descendants.
After the formation of the Gray Jedi Order and Potentium, three minor Gray organizations popped up during the events of the films and afterward. The first was the Gray Paladins, they were an offshoot of the Teepo Paladins, who were basically Jedi who also wanted to use blasters and eventually thrown out of the Jedi as potential dark side Force users. The Gray Paladins were an extremist splinter group who believed the Force was secondary and would only use it to increase their speed, strength, and accuracy rather than use any of the cool magic powers the Force is known for on either the light or dark side. Both groups are slaughtered in the purge from Revenge of the Sith, and they’re pretty irrelevant, except for the fact that a Gray Paladin named Laranth Tarak appears in a Star Wars novel called The Last Jedi... no relation to the upcoming movie.
The next group is called the Jenserrai who originated as a Sith Cult during the Clone Wars, but after a Jedi strike team killed most of them, the survivors became unaffiliated Force-users. They tried to join the Empire, but were turned down, and went into hiding until after the events of Return of the Jedi and joined Luke Skywalker’s New Jedi Order.
The final group is called the Imperial Knights, and they’re so far in the future it’s unlikely they’ll have any bearing on the new film, but we’re this far in, so why not? The Imperial Knights are a group of Force-users that serve the remnants of the Empire after it’s freed from Sith influence. The Imperial Knights were organized just like the Jedi, but served a monarch, Emperor Fel, until he fell to the dark side and eventually died.
While these stories are no longer canon, LucasBooks senior editor Jennifer Heddle has said the Star Wars: Legends universe is there as a resource to be drawn from for the movies.
It’s my opinion that, at least to some in the galaxy, the Jedi might seem to want balance, but are really just as bad as the Sith in terms of orthodoxy. Their emphasis on order and monasticism over logic could be one reason why Anakin fell. To quote Jolee Bindo from the Knights of the Old Republic video game, “Love doesn’t lead to the dark side. Passion can lead to rage and fear, and can be controlled… but passion is not the same thing as love. Controlling your passions while being in love… that’s what they should teach you to beware. But love itself will save you… not condemn you.”
What this might mean for The Last Jedi is that Luke is learning not only from his father’s mistakes, but the Old Republic Jedi’s as well. In the Legends universe, Luke starts a new Jedi Order much more similar to the Gray Jedi than the Jedi Council. He accepted various different interpretations of the Force into the fold. This offers an interesting parallel to the film’s decision to include more diverse characters in the universe as well. We’ve seen through Kylo Ren that an attempt to merely recreate the Jedi doesn’t work. Could movie Luke have an army of other kinds of Force users at his disposal somewhere in the universe? I don’t know how likely that is, but achieving balance in the sequel trilogy seems to require looking at the Force in a way that the Jedi never could.